Voltaire had dealt with his own share of suffering, having served time twice in the Bastille, and clubbed for offending a courtier. After the earthquakes of
Candide, named after its protagonist, is arguably Voltaire’s greatest work. It’s a breezy tale about a fictitious young man whose tutor is the token optimist, Pangloss – a representative of the ‘sufficient reason’ crowd who, amidst a slew of absurd catastrophes, maintains that all is for the best. Along with his dearest friends and his true love Cunégonde, our protagonist Candide encounters and suffers incalculable calamities, much of it written as outrageous parody, all the while siding with Pangloss by counting it all joy. While some of these events are loosely based on actual historical horrors – war, famine, torture – the circumstances, paired with the abundant serendipity throughout make the story so exceedingly ridiculous as to induce excessive laughter, the kind of laughter that forces one to stop reading and take a few deep breaths before resuming. Hard to believe how funny this is 250 years after its original publication.